Medical advances have put high cholesterol in the spotlight for many years now. We are often warned of the dangers of high cholesterol by commercials
advertising the latest cholesterol-lowering drug. It has been scientifically proven that high blood cholesterol can lead to heart disease and strokes. Most cases of heart and artery diseases are a result of cholesterol and plaque build-up in arterial walls, resulting in a reduced blood flow to the body and back to the heart. These build-ups can be large enough that a blockage of an artery can occur, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. The higher your cholesterol, the greater your risk for developing heart disease or suffering a heart attack or stroke.
Not all cholesterol is bad. As a matter of fact, cholesterol is an essential raw material our bodies use to build cell walls and produce hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. Cholesterol becomes a problem when our bodies cannot naturally eliminate any excess from the body. Cholesterol is naturally found in animal products such as, meat, cheese, milk and eggs, since animals have cholesterol in their body just like humans do.
Cholesterol is just one variety of fatty substance in our bodies, classified as a lipid. It flows through the blood attaching to proteins forming what is called a lipoprotein. The two major types of lipoproteins are high density lipoproteins (HDL) and low density lipoproteins (LDL). HDL is usually referred to as the good cholesterol, and LDL as the bad cholesterol. HDL is the cholesterol that sticks to the artery walls while the LDL actually helps flush the HDL out of the system. Ideally, we should all aim to have high LDL and low HDL.
There are many risk factors that contribute to high cholesterol. Diet, exercise, smoking and body weight are factors we can control. Gender, age and genetics are out of our hands. Lifestyle changes can greatly improve your cholesterol levels, but in the cases where it does not, medications or herbal supplements combined with lifestyle changes show promise. A high blood pressure of 140/90 or higher and family history of heart disease both indicate a risk. If there is heart disease in your immediate family (developed before age 55 for men or before age 65 for women) you are at a higher risk of developing heart disease and need to be vigilant in controlling cholesterol levels. The main focus of cholesterol lowering treatment is lowering the LDL level to reduce the risk of developing heart disease or suffering a heart attack.
A test for cholesterol (lipoprotein profile) is done after fasting for nine to twelve hours. Depending on how high your cholesterol level is, your doctor will outline a plan to help reduce it. Reaching this goal will most likely involve increasing exercise to 30 minutes a day, eating plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and lean meats. For those known to be at high risk for heart disease based on the other risk factors discussed previously, medication, aspirin or herbal alternatives may also be included in the treatment plan. A plan including lifestyle changes will allow the doctor to keep the dose of medicine as low as possible. The good news for all of us is that the medical community is becoming more aware of the risk factors and treatment options for high cholesterol. Working as partners with our healthcare providers, we can all take steps to improve our chances of living longer, healthier lives.
Note: Some statements in this article may not be approved by the FDA. This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as professional medical advice.